Health policy

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The headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. World Health Organisation building from west.jpg
The headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Health policy can be defined as the "decisions, plans, and actions that are undertaken to achieve specific healthcare goals within a society". [1] According to the World Health Organization, an explicit health policy can achieve several things: it defines a vision for the future; it outlines priorities and the expected roles of different groups; and it builds consensus and informs people. [1]


There are many categories of health policies, including global health policy, public health policy, mental health policy, health care services policy, insurance policy, personal healthcare policy, pharmaceutical policy, and policies related to public health such as vaccination policy, tobacco control policy or breastfeeding promotion policy. They may cover topics of financing and delivery of healthcare, access to care, quality of care, and health equity. [2]


Health-related policy and its implementation is complex. Conceptual models can help show the flow from health-related policy development to health-related policy and program implementation and to health systems and health outcomes. Policy should be understood as more than a national law or health policy that supports a program or intervention. Operational policies are the rules, regulations, guidelines, and administrative norms that governments use to translate national laws and policies into programs and services. [3] The policy process encompasses decisions made at a national or decentralized level (including funding decisions) that affect whether and how services are delivered. Thus, attention must be paid to policies at multiple levels of the health system and over time to ensure sustainable scale-up. A supportive policy environment will facilitate the scale-up of health interventions. [4]

There are many topics in the politics and evidence that can influence the decision of a government, private sector business or other group to adopt a specific policy. Evidence-based policy relies on the use of science and rigorous studies such as randomized controlled trials to identify programs and practices capable of improving policy relevant outcomes. Most political debates surround personal health care policies, especially those that seek to reform healthcare delivery, and can typically be categorized as either philosophical or economic. Philosophical debates center around questions about individual rights, ethics and government authority, while economic topics include how to maximize the efficiency of health care delivery and minimize costs.

Countries with universal health care in 2009 Universal health care.svg
Countries with universal health care in 2009

The modern concept of healthcare involves access to medical professionals from various fields as well as medical technology, such as medications and surgical equipment. It also involves access to the latest information and evidence from research, including medical research and health services research.

In many countries it is left to the individual to gain access to healthcare goods and services by paying for them directly as out-of-pocket expenses, and to private sector players in the medical and pharmaceutical industries to develop research. Planning and production of health human resources is distributed among labour market participants.

Other countries have an explicit policy to ensure and support access for all of its citizens, to fund health research, and to plan for adequate numbers, distribution and quality of health workers to meet healthcare goals. Many governments around the world have established universal health care, which takes the burden of healthcare expenses off of private businesses or individuals through pooling of financial risk. There are a variety of arguments for and against universal healthcare and related health policies. Healthcare is an important part of health systems and therefore it often accounts for one of the largest areas of spending for both governments and individuals all over the world.

Personal healthcare policy options

Philosophy: right to health

Many countries and jurisdictions integrate a human rights philosophy in directing their healthcare policies. The World Health Organization reports that every country in the world is party to at least one human rights treaty that addresses health-related rights, including the right to health as well as other rights that relate to conditions necessary for good health. [5] The United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) asserts that medical care is a right of all people: [6]

In some jurisdictions and among different faith-based organizations, health policies are influenced by the perceived obligation shaped by religious beliefs to care for those in less favorable circumstances, including the sick. Other jurisdictions and non-governmental organizations draw on the principles of humanism in defining their health policies, asserting the same perceived obligation and enshrined right to health. [7] [8] In recent years, the worldwide human rights organization Amnesty International has focused on health as a human right, addressing inadequate access to HIV drugs and women's sexual and reproductive rights including wide disparities in maternal mortality within and across countries. Such increasing attention to health as a basic human right has been welcomed by the leading medical journal The Lancet . [9]

There remains considerable controversy regarding policies on who would be paying the costs of medical care for all people and under what circumstances. For example, government spending on healthcare is sometimes used as a global indicator of a government's commitment to the health of its people. [10] On the other hand, one school of thought emerging from the United States rejects the notion of health care financing through taxpayer funding as incompatible with the (considered no less important) right of the physician's professional judgment, and the related concerns that government involvement in overseeing the health of its citizens could erode the right to privacy between doctors and patients. The argument furthers that universal health insurance denies the right of individual patients to dispose of their own income as per their own will. [11] [12]

Another issue in the rights debate is governments' use of legislation to control competition among private medical insurance providers against national social insurance systems, such as the case in Canada's national health insurance program. Laissez-faire supporters argue that this erodes the cost-effectiveness of the health system, as even those who can afford to pay for private healthcare services drain resources from the public system. [13] The issue here is whether investor-owned medical insurance companies or health maintenance organizations are in a better position to act in the best interests of their customers compared to government regulation and oversight. Another claim in the United States perceives government over-regulation of the healthcare and insurance industries as the effective end of charitable home visits from doctors among the poor and elderly. [14]

Economics: healthcare financing

Many types of health policies exist focusing on the financing of healthcare services to spread the economic risks of ill health. These include publicly funded health care (through taxation or insurance, also known as single-payer systems), mandatory or voluntary private health insurance, and complete capitalization of personal health care services through private companies, among others. [15] [16] The debate is ongoing on which type of health financing policy results in better or worse quality of healthcare services provided, and how to ensure allocated funds are used effectively, efficiently and equitably.

There are many arguments on both sides of the issue of public versus private health financing policies:

Claims that publicly funded healthcare improves the quality and efficiency of personal health care delivery:

Claims that privately funded healthcare leads to greater quality and efficiencies in personal health care:

Other health policy options

Health policy options extend beyond the financing and delivery of personal health care, to domains such as medical research and health workforce planning, both domestically and internationally.

Medical research policy

Medical research can be both the basis for defining evidence-based health policy, and the subject of health policy itself, particularly in terms of its sources of funding. Those in favor of government policies for publicly funded medical research posit that removing profit as a motive will increase the rate of medical innovation. [24] Those opposed argue that it will do the opposite, because removing the incentive of profit removes incentives to innovate and inhibits new technologies from being developed and utilized. [22] [25]

The existence of sound medical research does not necessarily lead to evidence-based policymaking. For example, in South Africa, whose population sets the record for HIV infections, previous government policy limiting funding and access for AIDS treatments met with strong controversy given its basis on a refusal to accept scientific evidence on the means of transmission. [26] A change of government eventually led to a change in policy, with new policies implemented for widespread access to HIV services. [27] Another issue relates to intellectual property, as illustrated by the case of Brazil, where debates have arisen over government policy authorizing the domestic manufacture of antiretroviral drugs used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS in violation of drug patents.

Health workforce policy

Some countries and jurisdictions have an explicit policy or strategy to plan for adequate numbers, distribution and quality of health workers to meet healthcare goals, such as to address physician and nursing shortages. Elsewhere, workforce planning is distributed among labour market participants as a laissez-faire approach to health policy. Evidence-based policies for workforce development are typically based on findings from health services research.

Health in foreign policy

Many governments and agencies include a health dimension in their foreign policy in order to achieve global health goals. Promoting health in lower income countries has been seen as instrumental to achieve other goals on the global agenda, including: [28]

Global health policy

Global health policy encompasses the global governance structures that create the policies underlying public health throughout the world. In addressing global health, global health policy "implies consideration of the health needs of the people of the whole planet above the concerns of particular nations." [29] Distinguished from both international health policy (agreements among sovereign states) and comparative health policy (analysis of health policy across states), global health policy institutions consist of the actors and norms that frame the global health response. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

Health care reform is for the most part governmental policy that affects health care delivery in a given place. Health care reform typically attempts to:

A health system, also sometimes referred to as health care system or as healthcare system, is the organization of people, institutions, and resources that deliver health care services to meet the health needs of target populations.

Health care Prevention of disease and promotion of wellbeing

Health care, health-care, or healthcare is the maintenance or improvement of health via the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, recovery, or cure of disease, illness, injury, and other physical and mental impairments in people. Health care is delivered by health professionals in allied health fields. Physicians and physician associates are a part of these health professionals. Dentistry, pharmacy, midwifery, nursing, medicine, optometry, audiology, psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, athletic training and other health professions are all part of health care. It includes work done in providing primary care, secondary care, and tertiary care, as well as in public health.

Publicly funded healthcare is a form of health care financing designed to meet the cost of all or most healthcare needs from a publicly managed fund. Usually this is under some form of democratic accountability, the right of access to which are set down in rules applying to the whole population contributing to the fund or receiving benefits from it.

Healthcare industry industry dedicated to providing health care services and products

The healthcare industry is an aggregation and integration of sectors within the economic system that provides goods and services to treat patients with curative, preventive, rehabilitative, and palliative care. It includes the generation and commercialization of goods and services lending themselves to maintaining and re-establishing health. The modern healthcare industry includes three essential branches which are services, products, and finance and may be divided into many sectors and categories and depends on the interdisciplinary teams of trained professionals and paraprofessionals to meet health needs of individuals and populations.

Universal healthcare is a health care system in which all residents of a particular country or region are assured access to health care. It is generally organized around providing either all residents or only those who cannot afford on their own with either health services or the means to acquire them, with the end goal of improving health outcomes.

Two-tier healthcare political slogan

Two-tier healthcare is a situation in which a basic government-provided healthcare system provides basic care, and a secondary tier of care exists for those who can pay for additional, better quality or faster access. Most countries have both publicly and privately funded healthcare, but the degree to which it creates a quality differential depends on the way the two systems are managed, funded, and regulated.

A public hospital, or government hospital, is a hospital which is government owned and is fully funded by government and operates solely off the money that is collected from taxpayers to fund healthcare initiatives. In some countries, this type of hospital provides medical care free of charge to patients, covering expenses and wages by government reimbursement.

The healthcare reform in China refers to the previous and ongoing healthcare system transition in modern China. China's government, specifically the National Health and Family Planning Commission, plays a leading role in these reforms. Reforms focus on establishing public medical insurance systems and enhancing public healthcare providers, the main component in China's healthcare system. In urban and rural areas, three government medical insurance system, Urban Residents Basic Medical Insurance, Urban Employee Basic Medical Insurance and New Rural Co-operative Medical Scheme cover almost everyone. Various public healthcare facilities, including county or city hospitals, community health centers, township health centers, were founded to serve diverse needs. Current and future reforms are outlined in Healthy China 2030.

Philosophy of healthcare

The philosophy of healthcare is the study of the ethics, processes, and people which constitute the maintenance of health for human beings. For the most part, however, the philosophy of healthcare is best approached as an indelible component of human social structures. That is, the societal institution of healthcare can be seen as a necessary phenomenon of human civilization whereby an individual continually seeks to improve, mend, and alter the overall nature and quality of their life. This perennial concern is especially prominent in modern political liberalism, wherein health has been understood as the foundational good necessary for public life.

Healthcare in Israel health care in Israel

Healthcare in Israel is universal and participation in a medical insurance plan is compulsory. All Israeli residents are entitled to basic health care as a fundamental right. The Israeli healthcare system is based on the National Health Insurance Law of 1995, which mandates all citizens resident in the country to join one of four official health insurance organizations, known as Kupat Holim which are run as not-for-profit organizations and are prohibited by law from denying any Israeli resident membership. Israelis can increase their medical coverage and improve their options by purchasing private health insurance. In a survey of 48 countries in 2013, Israel's health system was ranked fourth in the world in terms of efficiency, and in 2014 it ranked seventh out of 51. In 2015, Israel was ranked sixth-healthiest country in the world by Bloomberg rankings and ranked eighth in terms of life expectancy.

Healthcare reform in the United States has a long history. Reforms have often been proposed but have rarely been accomplished. In 2010, landmark reform was passed through two federal statutes enacted in 2010: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), signed March 23, 2010, and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which amended the PPACA and became law on March 30, 2010.

Spain employs a universal health care system. The system is essentially free except for small, often symbolic co-payments in some products and services.

Healthcare in Georgia is provided by a universal health care system under which the state funds medical treatment in a mainly privatized system of medical facilities. In 2013, the enactment of a universal health care program triggered universal coverage of government-sponsored medical care of the population and improving access to health care services. Responsibility for purchasing publicly financed health services lies with the Social Service Agency (SSA).

Healthcare in Tanzania

Tanzania has a hierarchical health system which is in tandem with the political-administrative hierarchy. At the bottom, there are the dispensaries found in every village where the village leaders have a direct influence on its running. The health centers are found at ward level and the health center in charge is answerable to the ward leaders. At the district, there is a district hospital and at the regional level a regional referral hospital. The tertiary level is usually the zone hospitals and at a national level, there is the national hospital. There are also some specialized hospitals that do not fit directly into this hierarchy and therefore are directly linked to the ministry of health.

Healthcare in India three tier health care system

The Indian Constitution makes the provision of healthcare in India the responsibility of the state governments, rather than the central federal government. It makes every state responsible for "raising the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties".

Healthcare in Belize

Healthcare in Belize is provided through both public and private healthcare systems. The Ministry of Health (MoH) is the government agency responsible for overseeing the entire health sector and is also the largest provider of public health services in Belize. The MoH offers affordable care to a majority of Belizeans with a strong focus on providing quality healthcare through a range of public programs and institutions.

The Egyptian healthcare system is pluralistic, comprising a variety of healthcare providers from the public as well as the private sector. The government ensures basic universal health coverage, although private services are also available for those with the ability to pay. Due to social and economic pressures, Egypt's healthcare system is subject to many challenges. However, several recent efforts have been directed towards enhancing the system.

PharmAccess Foundation The PharmAccess Group is dedicated to affordable access to quality health care in Africa, by stimulating investments through partnerships with the private sector and government institutions.

PharmAccess Foundation is part of the PharmAccess Group. PharmAccess is an international non-profit organization with a digital agenda dedicated to connecting more people in sub-Saharan Africa to better healthcare. By making use of public-private partnerships, they leverage donor contributions, which they believe will pave the way for private investments hereby contributing to healthier populations and social and economic development. Currently PharmAccess employs a multidisciplinary team of professionals in Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and the Netherlands.


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